India’s Impending Strategic Culture Debate, Part II

Read Part One Here

It is understandable for a young but civilizational state to be lost at the same time in celebrity names like Kautilya and Charvaka, and newer heroes like Nehru and Gandhi. The moot point however is to know if we are capable of investigating the truisms that the last six decades of Indian foreign policy seemed to have established. The creation of an Indian Union was a difficult and complex one, apart from the bloody partition of the subcontinent. The task of nation-building is never an easy one and India was no exception. New Delhi had to resort to economic blockade and threats of military intervention to coax unwilling political entities into joining the Union. With a rough border with an antagonistic China, it was in India’s interest to take over Sikkim in 1975 when its leader seemed to waiver in its allegiance to New Delhi. Likewise, it was problematic to have French and Portuguese enclaves, and these had to be united with the Indian Union, whether the inhabitants wanted that or not. That a postcolonial country roughly the size of Europe, and with a population several times more, would have political, defense and strategic needs that are not satiable by calls for peace and nonviolence, is almost commonsensical. Yet, IR programs in India are preoccupied with teaching students the peace-loving nature of their country, and New Delhi’s noninvolvement in the Cold War thanks to its nonalignment.

The predicament is complex, if not an intractable one, and has much to do with the Indian academic/research enterprise of international security studies per se. On one hand, IR programs at the graduate level are too few in number, although political science departments abound. On the other hand, history departments specialize in social and cultural history, with a particular penchant for the colonial period. The farthest the history programs are willing to stretch themselves is up until the nationalist movement and the Independence. After that, history retreats and political science commences.[1] This interdisciplinary academic division of labor is problematic, although there are practical reasons behind this. The most important of these is the difficult access to historical archives of post-independent India. The preservation techniques of documents are insufficient and there is the usual red tape in getting things done in the country. However, good history as we understand it today is based on multi-archival research in multiple countries. Young Indian security experts expatriated across the globe thus have a vast repertoire of possibilities at their disposal. All they have to do is embrace it.


Read Part III Here


[1] Some commendable historical works on India’s military-strategic-nuclear history have been published in recent times. These include those by Jahnavi Phalkey and Srinath Raghavan. See Jahnavi Phalkhey, Atomic State: Big Science in Twentieth-Century India(New Delhi and Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2013); Srinath Raghavan, War and Peace in Modern India : A Strategic History of the Nehru Years, Indian Century (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2010); 1971 : A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013).


Image: Narendra Modi, Flickr

Posted in , Education, History, India, Research, Security, Strategic Culture

Jayita Sarkar

Jayita Sarkar

Jayita Sarkar is a Research Fellow with the Security Studies Program at MIT's Center for International Studies. Her expertise is in international security, nuclear proliferation, foreign policy analysis, and South Asia. Dr. Sarkar’s writings have been published in peer-reviewed journals like Cold War History, International History Review, and Critique Internationale and policy-relevant outlets like The National Interest and Foreign Policy magazine among others. Sarkar is a former Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and holds a Ph.D. in International History and Politics from the Graduate Institute Geneva in Switzerland.

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